Member Update: Building safety first – a culture change in construction

GAI attended the recent Building Safety First conference in London, where construction leaders came together to assess where the industry is in terms of the building safety and competence agendas, as well as the next steps forward. 

One message from this event stood out – that industry should not wait for regulation, legislation, new standards or external forces to be set in place. Those who seek to drive positive change in the sector should act now. 

Public trust

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, (the Hackitt report) found that the regulatory system for high-rise and complex buildings was not fit for purpose.  Since then, there has been a significant drive from UK Government to make positive change within the culture of the construction industry. One such change is to increase levels of competence in all aspects of the built environment.

Speaking at the event, Dame Judith said that while the new regulation which is planned will help drive culture change, it will not rebuild the public trust in the construction industry which has been lost following Grenfell.  In order to do that we all must play our part and step up. While there is a recognition that much good progress has been made through bodies such as Competence Steering Group and Industry Safety Steering Group, the pace of change is not happening quickly enough.

The event highlighted how sectors such as the chemical industry were able to work together to increase levels of safety after devastating tragedies such as Piper Alpha, and the gauntlet was thrown down for the construction industry to do the same. We were also reminded how culture change could be achieved in the construction sector in the pandemic through the Construction Leadership Council. Their work helped the industry to stay open through strong leadership and practical guidance, such as the creation of the Site Operating Procedures which are continually revised and still in use.

Drivers of change

So what are the changes which are coming down the track and what part have we in the ironmongery sector played?

Change will be driven by new legislation such as the Building Safety Bill for England and Wales, which will receive Royal Assent in 2022. This will create powers to strengthen the regulation of construction products placed on the UK market, ensuring all products are covered by a regulatory regime. This will introduce new rules stating that construction products need to be safe, in a policy similar to the one for consumer products.  

There will also be a suite of new competence standards. This includes the new British Standard Flex 8670, as well as a number of new standards which are due to be published in 2022 and which will hugely impact three key roles – Principal Designer (PAS 8671), Principal Contractor (PAS 8672) and Building Safety Manager (PAS 8673).  

The Government has also set up the Interim Industry Competence Committee (IICC), whose aim is to provide strategic leadership and oversight of the industry’s work to facilitate improvement of competence in the built environment sector.

A number of other initiatives have also been set up by the industry itself, with one of the most relevant for the construction product sector being the Code for Construction Products Information. The objective of the Code is that any claim made about a Construction Product must be substantiated by appropriate, clear, and unambiguous evidence.  The CCPI is built around these five ‘acid tests’ - product information must be: clear; accurate; up-to-date; accessible; and unambiguous. The aim is that clients, specifiers, and users will insist on working only with CCPI-compliant products.

During the Building Safety First Conference, the CCPI was singled out by many parties including Government, insurers and regulators as an opportunity for construction product manufacturers and distributors to demonstrate their commitment to change. Any GAI member seeking to engage in this process is encouraged to contact the Guild for further information and assistance. 

The role of the GAI

GAI is proud to play its part in this process, contributing to the competence agenda by representing our membership as well as the wider construction products sector on a number of key committees. 

These include chairing WG12 for Competence in Construction Products, membership of Competence Steering Group, WG7 for Designers, and a sub-committee of the HSE Interim Industry Competence Committee. We also have representation on the drafting panels for the new suite of standards.

GAI has always placed increased competence at the top of its agenda, having educated and accredited architectural ironmongery professionals since 1961. By continually improving our education offer, particularly at DipGAI and RegAI level, and increasing our commitment to continuing professional development for all in the sector, we are focused on helping our members to achieve the required competencies and demonstrate them to the wider construction industry.